It's Turkey Time: Safely Prepare Your Holiday Meal
Whether you're a seasoned chef or a novice preparing your first holiday meal, make sure you know the safest ways to thaw, prepare, stuff and cook your turkey.
Holidays are times we share the kitchen with family and friends. Make it a goal this year to also share good food safety practices. CDC is a partner with the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), Food Safety and Inspection Service (FSIS), which is responsible for the safety of meat and poultry. Here are simple tips that all cooks in the kitchen can follow this holiday season for cooking a delicious and safely prepared turkey.
Turkey Basics: Safely Thaw, Prepare, Stuff, and Cook
When preparing a turkey, be aware of the four main safety issues: thawing, preparing, stuffing, and cooking to the adequate temperature.
Did You Know?
- Clostridium perfringens is the second most common bacterial cause of food poisoning.
- Outbreaks occur most often in November and December.
- Meat and poultry accounted for 92% of outbreaks with an identified single food source.
- Refrigerate leftovers at 40°F or below as soon as possible and within two hours of preparation to prevent food poisoning.1
Thawing turkeys must be kept at a safe temperature. The "danger zone" is between 40 and 140°F — the temperature range where foodborne bacteria multiply rapidly. While frozen, a turkey is safe indefinitely, but as soon as it begins to thaw, bacteria that may have been present before freezing can begin to grow again, if it is in the "danger zone."
Bacteria present on raw poultry can contaminate your hands, utensils, and work surfaces as you prepare the turkey. If these areas are not cleaned thoroughly before working with other foods, bacteria from the raw poultry can then be transferred to other foods. After working with raw poultry, always wash your hands, utensils, and work surfaces before they touch other foods.
For optimal safety and uniform doneness, cook the stuffing outside the turkey in a casserole dish. However, if you place stuffing inside the turkey, do so just before cooking, and use a food thermometer. Make sure the center of the stuffing reaches a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Bacteria can survive in stuffing that has not reached 165°F, possibly resulting in foodborne illness. Follow the FSIS' steps to safely prepare, cook, remove, and refrigerate stuffing; Spanish language instructions are available.
Set the oven temperature no lower than 325°F and be sure the turkey is completely thawed. Place turkey breast-side up on a flat wire rack in a shallow roasting pan 2 to 2-1/2 inches deep. Check the internal temperature at the center of the stuffing and meaty portion of the breast, thigh, and wing joint using a food thermometer. Cooking times will vary. The food thermometer must reach a safe minimum internal temperature of 165°F. Let the turkey stand 20 minutes before removing all stuffing from the cavity and carving the meat. For more information on safe internal temperatures, visit FoodSafety.gov's Safe Minimum Cooking Temperatures.
A Note About Ebola
On November 10, 2014, a fictitious, comedic article was published online claiming that turkeys on a farm in Texas were infected with Ebola. This is a false claim. Furthermore, experimental efforts to infect birds with Ebola virus have not been successful, and birds have never been implicated in the transmission of Ebola. Only a few species of mammals, including humans, bats, monkeys, and apes, have been shown to be capable of becoming infected with and transmitting Ebola.
There is no danger of getting Ebola from handling or eating any food produced in the United States. Ebola is spread through direct contact with the blood or body fluids of a person who is sick with Ebola or someone who has died from Ebola. In some African countries, human Ebola infections have been associated with hunting, butchering, and handling bushmeat from animals infected with the Ebola virus. "Bushmeat" refers to meat that comes from wild animals, such as bats and monkeys, captured in developing regions of the world such as Africa. It is illegal to bring bushmeat into the U.S. Because of this, bushmeat, in any amount, found at U.S. ports of entry is destroyed along with any personal items that may have come in contact with it.
- Poultry Preparation, USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service; Spanish version
- Turkey Basics: Handling Cooked Dinners & Leftovers, USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service; Spanish version
- Turkey Basics: Safe Cooking, USDA, Food Safety and Inspection Service; Spanish version
- Thanksgiving Holiday Resources; Spanish version
- CDC Foodborne Illness
- CDC Food Safety
- CDC Outbreak Tracking and Reporting
- Page last reviewed: November 25, 2014
- Page last updated: November 25, 2014
- Content source:
- National Center for Emerging and Zoonotic Infectious Diseases, Division of Foodborne, Waterborne, and Environmental Diseases
- Page maintained by: Office of the Associate Director for Communication, Digital Media Branch, Division of Public Affairs